Well, I guess it is time for my first blog. Though I have been writing for years, I have stubbornly refused to release my innermost thoughts to the net. After all, it is the last bastion where I still possess some modicum of control. It is nice though to have one’s say without being interrupted or being forced to observe the exact moment when the supposed listener’s body language reveals he or she has tuned out. Here goes.
I never thought I would be writing this, but I find myself at that nasty moment of truth when I realize that I am getting old…er. That was tough getting out. It has never been made more real for me than at the workplace. Due to the economy or whatever fatalistic factor caused the recent change, I find myself, a senior level worker in my job type, being forced to work with junior level workers doing the same job. Throw in another interesting tidbit in that we are all working as contractors within another company. That’s right, our company has pimped us out as we unofficially declare it. This particular job involves aspects of skills I have used over the years, so it is not entirely foreign to me.
Being forced into this situation presents a number of discomforts for the over 50, experienced worker. For one, whereas before I would lead my coworkers in a project, now we are at the same level doing the same work. Therefore, if I could have suggested more efficient ways of doing things or delicately observed less than positive behavior and attempted to steer it back onto the more positive, I have lost that opportunity now. I have no more credibility than any other coworker in this position. Thus, my knowledge and experience falls by the wayside. I have no respect coauthored with experience in their eyes. This leads to other complications.
These complications involve communication and work styles. With many of the younger workers, these are one in the same. For example, instead of relating face-to-face with someone, all communication is now done via Instant Message (IM), even if one is less than five feet from the other. For a life-long believer in 3D communication (words, tone, and body language), immediate discomfort is experienced. No longer can the tone and body language be observed but only guessed at, hopefully with the addition of some emoticons in the message. How ironic! Imagine the discomfort when one has just had ‘words’ with one of these coworkers and is now forced to listen to the clack-clack of typing as two others talk about the incident right next to you via IM. In fact, upon being IMed and asked a question one day, I got up and walked the few feet to the coworker’s desk to give her the answer. I mentioned the fact that we were only a few feet away and she could have asked her question aloud to me. This was immediately met with derision and a reiteration of the question in a less-than-welcoming tone.
Another difference in work style and communication involves tasks performed during off time or while not performing specific work tasks. This can occur before meetings begin or while waiting to perform a task on particular equipment. The former water cooler has morphed into this intangible space that encompasses the work area AND the non-work areas. Topics formerly kept for discussion around the cooler (gossip, trends, etc.) have now entered the conference room, the cubicle, and any other work space. I don’t have to watch cable. I can catch up on what Honey Boo Boo has said or which member of the Kardashian clan is in the media simply by being at work. Though I might find some of what is said a tad amusing at times, my raised-in-the-60s-and-70s mentality literally screams for someone–anyone–to tell them it is inappropriate. And I am not alone!
There is a secret network of middle-aged workers at my workplace who empathize and commiserate with me at times and in places where the Gen Ys can not see or hear. I bemoan the fact that when I was in my 20s and 30s, I was forced to mold myself into what was expected in the workplace. Now that I am a bit older and, I believe, should have the respect and credibility given to me simply as an offshoot of my experience and wisdom, I am still expected to mold myself into this new, younger-style workplace behavior or appear as aberration.
I’ll close with what my coworker told me when I asked her if she had an issue with me. She responded with: “I don’t understand you!”
Well, I don’t understand. Am I an X in a new O (Y) world who should simply learn to adapt or can awareness be raised about these issues of the inter-generational workplaces? If not, both sides may continually find themselves growing farther apart and more uncomfortable.